Oh yeah, Spaceboy does need his space after losing it with Max.
Lol, Isabel and her tree diagram some things never change. So true, eh?
The favorite Christmas memory was a bitter sweet event......
Thank you! You were the only one to comment on this. We feel for Isabel and it was one of our bittersweet moments as well.
Well we had to have someone rescue Isabel from her sad thoughts, who better than Kyle? We love Kyle and are glad you found his make believe past for them funny. It was what Kyle was going for, lol!Alien_Friend –
We so agree, this confrontation was coming and we're glad that it's out there. This opens the door for some adjustments that could bring them some stability and lessen Michael's suspicious behavior that was calling too much attention to them and stressing all of them out.mary mary –
God, shame on me, I almost missed this. By the time I got to this menu you were already down in the middle of the page.
No worries, lol. But thank you for the compliment!
So true, Michael is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders. As far as wanting what Max and Liz have we don't believe that he relates to their kind of relationship as "soul mates."
Life has been hard for him; we believe he's a realist when it comes to relationships and people. We also know that he loves Maria and that she loves him and he has forgiven her.
A part of him understood why she left even though it killed him. (Her quest showed up when Billy came to Roswell, her music.) The thing that he didn't understand was how she could treat him so causally after making love to him. That hurt. Because she had to make a life-altering decision with a gun literally against her friends’ heads he can't be sure that she knows what she wants. All M&M need is a good heart to heart. We believe Michael knows this as well but has been too stressed about their safety to deal with it completely.Author’s Note:
A couple of lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Two Roswell episodes Viva Las Vegas and It’s Too Late & It’s Too Bad.Part 30
Max stared at Michael’s retreating back until he disappeared from sight, feeling like someone had just dropped a ton of bricks on his chest. He had willingly given up his role as the king and he didn’t regret that. He hadn’t liked being responsible for making decisions that could potentially put any or all of them in further danger… or worse. He and Michael had locked horns over most of those decisions anyway, so why was he throwing that decision in his face now? He should be happy with that decision; he had what he wanted now. He was making the decisions and shouldering the weight of responsibility for all of them.
For the past six months Michael had made decision after decision and no one had challenged him. He rarely asked for anyone’s opinion, but on those occasions it wasn’t Max that he turned to. And now he was pissed off because no one else was taking the reins and making the decisions? He felt his own anger build in response to that thought.
“Maybe we should quit imitating ice sculptures and get inside out of the cold,” Kyle suggested as he bent to check his right boot, using it as cover to glance back at the house. Yep, sure enough, he could see a shadow standing at the window; Edward, ever the watchful protector. At least they were far enough away that he wouldn’t have been able to discern what their argument was about.
Their exit hadn’t exactly been subtle but he knew why Maria had been so quick to get Michael out of the house. He hadn’t been having a lot of fun himself, but his emotions weren’t likely to cause anything to blow up. At least they hadn’t so far,
he mused. It had been a trying day and simply accepting that they had to wait around, with no escape options open to them wasn’t something Michael was handling well. Maybe if he’d had some time to decompress after that news this might have been avoided. But they hadn’t had that luxury; as soon as they had learned about the van they had spent more than an hour in a crowded Walmart, then it had been lunch, Christmas tree hunting, and dinner with a festive round of share-your-favorite-Christmas-memory. He was surprised it had taken as long as it had for him to lose it.
“C’mon, Maria. I’ll walk you to your place soon as Isabel’s inside.” He glanced at Liz, catching her eye when she looked away from her husband. ‘You got him?’ he mouthed silently.
She nodded with a slight smile and reached out to grab the pocket of Max’ coat, tugging to get him moving. She could see the anger in his eyes but below that the hurt was just waiting for its turn to be released.
None of them said a word as they separated and walked to the cabins. Kyle waited for Isabel to get inside and lock the door behind her before he and Maria started walking down to the little cabin furthest from the house. The only sound that could be heard was the snow crunching underfoot and the occasional creak as the snow-laden branches obeyed the command of the wind and shifted under their burden.
“Did you need some company?” he asked while he waited for her to unlock the door.
Maria turned to look at him, seeing the hint of strain around his eyes. Sometimes it was easy to forget that their situation got to him too. Kyle was so easygoing and he used humor to break the tension so often that they overlooked his feelings and forgot that he got stressed out too. Too often they took him for granted and she knew he allowed it, using it as something to gripe about from time to time to break the tension. Even now, when the stress was more visible in his features than he normally allowed to surface he was putting someone else’s needs first. She shook her head and smiled slightly. “No, but thanks for the offer, Kyle.”
He nodded and motioned for her to go inside, waiting for the door to close behind her and the lock to turn before he made his way back to his own cabin. His steps were heavy, but the snow had little to do with it. His mind was preoccupied; running from the past, treading water in the present, and staring into an uncertain future. He shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets as he rounded the slight curve in the driveway, following it until he reached the shoveled path to the front door of his cabin.
He pulled one glove off and fumbled for the key, cursing under his breath when it slipped through his cold fingers and landed in the snow. He shifted back and squinted down at the ground, heaving a relieved sigh when he saw it sitting up at an angle in the packed snow. He snatched it up and gave the lock another shot, shaking his head as he stepped into the cabin.
It wasn’t until he was shrugging out of his outer gear that he realized the cabin was quiet. The heat had been turned up a bit and the main room was starting to feel comfortably warm. The lights were off and Isabel was sitting at one end of the loveseat, her gaze locked on the wall in front of her. He maintained the silence as he went to his room and grabbed his things so he could go and take a shower.
He turned the water on, getting it as hot as he could stand it before stripping his clothes off and getting in under the spray. There wasn’t much room in the little stall but he couldn’t care less at the moment. Until the hot water ran out it was his little corner of the universe and no one else could intrude on it. No one but his thoughts, he realized as they did their level best to pick at the lock holding them back.
His eyes closed as he tipped his head back to let the water run over his face. His hands lifted to scrub over his cheeks, feeling the rasp of stubble against his palms. He let his mind wander back to a scene further back, a scene that was safe. He could remember his dad standing behind him, the bathroom mirror in front of them, as he showed him how to shave. He smiled slightly at the memory and without his permission his mind turned to last Christmas. Dad had been so lost,
he thought. Was he doing better this Christmas?
He wished futilely that he could see his dad; that he could see for himself that he was okay. He swallowed hard as he thought about never seeing his dad again.
Hopefully Dad hadn’t decided to try his hand at dating any other girls that had babysat for him when he was a kid. Maybe he would be having Christmas with Amy so neither of them would be alone. That would be nice. He had always liked Amy and he knew how much Dad liked her. It would sure beat Dad looking like road kill, wearing yellow rubber gloves, and shoving a head of lettuce up some unsuspecting turkey’s ass.
He snorted at that thought and leaned forward to let his forehead rest on his fisted hands where they were braced against the shower stall.
Kyle thought about the fight between Michael and Max and shook his head. “What were you thinkin’,” he muttered under his breath, uncertain who the words were directed at. Some days he wondered what would happen if he just stood back and let the two of them beat the hell out of each other. Maybe it would be the best thing to just let them get it out of their systems. Sometimes he got sick of playing the mediator, trying to navigate their tempers, arguments, and silences.
He ran his right hand over his hair when the water began to cool. He snatched the shampoo up and hurried to wash his hair, hoping to get out before the water turned cold. He escaped the confines of the shower stall just as the hot water tank spit out the last few droplets of heated water. The heat from the living area didn’t reach into the bathroom and he shivered as the cool air hit his damp skin.
He hurriedly toweled off and pulled his sleepwear on, snatching up the hair dryer Isabel had tucked onto the tiny shelf behind the door. He plugged it in and ran the heated air over his exposed skin. He dried his hair, something that he normally wouldn’t bother with, but it was cold enough in the cabin that he wasn’t about to go to bed with wet hair.
Once he was finished and he had put everything away and cleaned up after himself he left the bathroom, leaving the door open on the off chance a bit of heat might sneak inside. He glanced at the bed and saw that Isabel had turned in and he walked out through the living area to get to his room. He tossed his things on the bottom bunk and lifted his head to stare at the top bunk with its cartoon dressing. As he stood there he felt something inside of him rebel at the thought of sleeping in a bed intended for a child.
“Y’know, Kyle’s too old for this,” he muttered under his breath. He crossed the room and reached up to grab onto the edge of the mattress, pulling it off of the bunk and dropping it on the floor. He rearranged it so that it was wedged into the doorway, putting it right in the path of the furnace so that the heated air would warm him when it kicked on.
Satisfied that he would make it though the night without freezing to death he rolled his neck along his shoulders, hearing the pops and cracks as tension was released. “Crap,” he mumbled as he stared at the sheets, “yippy ki yay blanket’s on Isabel’s bed.” He looked around and his eyes fell on the throw resting on the back of the loveseat. “Okay, a little bit small, but we can make that work.” He was crossing the space when he heard Isabel speak, her voice so soft, so quiet, that he almost didn’t hear her.
He cocked his head to one side, straining to catch what she was saying. He doubted she was talking to him, but her tone was conversational even though he couldn’t make out the words. Who could she be talking to? Her parents maybe?
He knew how much she missed them and how much it hurt her to be separated from them, especially at this time of the year. He took another step to bring him to the loveseat and as he reached for the throw a single word reached his ears.
The rest of her words were indiscernible but he knew whom she was talking to now. That knowledge brought another person to mind and he stomped on that door, forcing her memory to stay put. He snatched the throw off of the loveseat and stalked back to his room, getting into bed and curling his body up so that the little blanket covered him. He squeezed his eyes shut against the memories and refused to let them surface. He would not
allow her to intrude on his thoughts. He sat up after several minutes and wrapped the throw around his shoulders, bringing his knees up and resting his forehead on them. He forced himself to focus on baseball, mentally reciting every stat he could think of until he eventually felt the pull of sleep begin to tug at him. I really need to get back to meditating.
It was his last coherent thought as he curled up under the throw and sleep pulled him into its comforting embrace.
Liz removed the last layers of her winter gear and hung them up on the hook next to the window. Beyond the windowpane the scenery was so tranquil, such a direct contrast to the storm brewing inside the cabin. She tucked the sleeve of her coat in between the wall and one of the lapels before stepping away from the precarious pile of clothing. Max generally didn’t lose it on the same scale that Michael could, but when he reached the end of his rope he tended to let everything out at once.
She moved back out of the way, sitting on the arm of the couch and gnawing on her bottom lip as she watched her husband. He wasn’t even aware she was in the same room with him as he jerked his winter gear off one piece at a time. With every item that came off he fought to keep it from falling on the floor, muttering about Michael and getting louder with each passing minute.
“I don’t get it,” he bit out as his right hand shot out, catching his coat and pinning it to the wall and rearranging it so that it remained stationary. “We’ve had more fights than I could ever hope to count about my decisions when it came to our safety.” He shook his head and his cheeks flushed red with anger. “I came to the same conclusion he did – all I did was make a big mess of everything so I did what he wanted. I gave it up. No more king, no more being in charge, no more calling the shots… if he wants to call the shots, fine, go for it.”
She could see the different emotions racing across his face as he leaned over and pulled his left boot off, slamming it down on the floor. Her gaze followed the small chunk of snow that came loose and went skipping across the room to land up against the rocking chair. She looked at Max when he started arguing with himself again.
“But do you think he was happy with that? Hell no! If I make the decisions I’m wrong. If I don’t make the decisions I’m still wrong! How am I supposed to know what I should do when no matter what I do it’s wrong?!” He jerked his right boot off and flung it down to join its mate. “And standin’ there tellin’ me we don’t understand the situation?”
Liz went over the argument, trying to pinpoint that remark and after a moment she shook her head. “He never said we didn’t understand the situation, Max,” she said quietly.
He turned to stare at her. “What?”
“I don’t really think this has anything to do with understanding the situation.”
He waved his right hand dismissively. “He stood right there and said I had no perception of the danger that day at the gas station! There was no danger! Michael could find a reason to think any situation was dangerous!”
“And if I had been the one the cop stopped to talk to?” She shook her head. “Would you have let it pass without a single thought that we had been discovered?”
“It’s not the friggin’ thought, Liz! He’s held onto it for months, obsessing over it and blowing it outta proportion!” He looked down when one of his boots fell over and he leaned down to right it. “He acts like he’s the only one with somethin’ to lose! Who the hell does – “ He glared at the boot when it stubbornly tipped to the side again, this time catching the edge of one of their coats and adding just enough pressure to upset the pile of outerwear weakly clinging to the overburdened hooks. He tried to catch the clothes as one by one they began to slide off of the hooks and after several tense moments he gave up and started throwing every item he could reach.
Liz watched him as coats, hats, gloves, boots, leggings and any other articles of clothing in his reach was thrown as far as possible.
“He’s never been alone in this thing,” he huffed. “Never! I wouldn’t do that to him.” He started to pace. “I know what it feels like to feel alone, carrying the weight of everyone’s safety. And as for knowin’ what it’s like to have someone you love more than your own life threatened… he doesn’t have exclusive rights to that feeling! I was there… I was in that fucking white room, I know!”
She listened to every angry word he spewed, knowing where a good part of it was coming from. His skin was stretched taut across his face, making his hard jawline stand out in stark relief. Her eyes lowered to his fists, watching them as they clenched and unclenched spasmodically. She felt that familiar calm come over her as she mentally went through the options available to her, debating what it would take to calm him down.
Liz walked over to her husband and placed her hand over his, waiting mere moments before his fist relaxed enough for her to slide her fingers through his. “Max, living in constant fear and being on the road the way we have been has done a lot to all of us. Have you considered that maybe Michael didn’t want the job of decisionmaker exclusively? It’s a lot for any one person, maybe too much. No ruler does everything alone. There are always advisors and others to bear part of the responsibility. There’s a reason for that.”
“When’s the last time you remember Michael asking for help when it came to making a decision?” he snarled. “He seems to find everyone else’s input more credible than mine.”
“Max, you gave up the throne, remember? We stood there and everyone looked to you for the answer. They were waiting for you to tell them what to do and you said you wouldn’t make the decision for everyone.”
“Michael wouldn’t have listened to what I had to say anyway, so what does it matter? He had already made his mind up about what he was gonna do. He was the first one to say how ridiculous it would be for us to take off together.” He gave a sharp shake of his head as he dropped her hand and crossed the room to stare outside. “He was ready to drop everything and leave. He was ready to leave Maria there.”
“I think we both know you’re just grasping at straws now,” Liz said as she sat down on the couch and picked up one of the little throw pillows. She held it on her lap, her fingers stroking along the edge.
“I wouldn’t have left you behind.”
She smiled slightly at the conviction in his tone even as an old pain surfaced. If it wasn’t for Michael you would’ve left me behind and left the planet with Tess.
“You know he has his own moral code and whether or not we agree with it doesn’t matter. He didn’t grow up like the rest of us did; there wasn’t a decent adult in his life to show him how to act or what to do so he’s created his own system of right and wrong.” She could still remember going to Michael’s trailer and that creepy Hank looking her over like he was mentally undressing her. She felt a shiver race down her spine at that memory. And the way he had called Michael ‘Micky’, and made it sound like trash. “Putting Maria in danger violates that code. At the time he felt she’d be safer there than on the run with him.” She shrugged one shoulder. “They also weren’t together at the time. Can you imagine us being on the run as a group if you and I hadn’t been together when we had to run?”
That didn’t bear thinking about. Max stared out into the darkness, feeling the cold radiating out from the windowpane. “They’re together even when they’re not together.”
There was definite truth in his quiet statement. “You know if she hadn’t come he wouldn’t still be with us, Max.”
“No,” he agreed. “He would’ve taken off a long time ago.”
“Max, the two of you might fight over things, you might disagree over more than you agree on, but you need each other. That night when you decided you were no longer making the decisions for the group…” she bit her lip.
He turned to look at her, narrowing his eyes a bit when he saw the hesitation in her expression. She knew he wasn’t going to like whatever she was about to say and she was weighing her words. “Just say it,” he insisted.
“We had made it through everything up until that point with you guiding us and making the decisions. Michael reacts to things differently than you do; he’s a man of action and you’re the one who plans everything out.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. What I’m saying is you knew when you made the decision to give up the throne that Michael would step in and pick up that slack. Someone has to make the decisions and consciously or unconsciously, he stepped in and took that on. He was your second in command on Antar; you relied on him when making decisions. You knew if we stayed together decisions would have to be made. We’re running for our lives and a wrong decision could mean being captured or killed; you didn’t want that responsibility any longer so you let it go because you knew he would take it on.” She was silent for a moment. “You know why you no longer wanted to make the hard decisions, Max.”
He swallowed hard as he turned back to the window, hearing her words echo in his head. “…a wrong decision could mean being captured or killed; you didn’t want that responsibility…” No, he didn’t want that responsibility any longer and he knew why. He didn’t trust himself to make the decisions. So many of his decisions for the past couple of years had led to disastrous outcomes. Tess… Alex… Zan…
He squeezed his eyes shut as his failures rose up before him. She was right. He had known Michael would take over and handle everything; it was who he was. Michael didn’t know how to quit and he would do everything he could to carry the weight of responsibility until the bitter end.
He knew how much of a burden it was to shoulder all of that responsibility and to feel so alone and he had knowingly done that to Michael. It was too much for a single person to carry and he knew that. His mind drifted back to their last morning in Las Vegas and something Michael had said.“Whoever sent us down here was smart, you know? Because they sent us together, and as long as we stick together, we’re gonna make it.”
“I need to talk to him,” he said finally.
The words had a ragged edge to them and Liz was fairly certain she knew what was on his mind. “Not tonight, Max.”
“Not tonight,” he repeated softly as he turned away from the window. “First thing tomorrow though.” He looked around at the mess he had made and he crossed the room to pick up the first glove he came to. He bit his tongue when his foot landed on the little chunk of snow that had come loose from his boot and the now melted snow soaked his sock. He froze for a moment and turned his head to the side when he heard his wife’s gentle laugh.
“If you throw one more thing, Max…”
He looked around the room once more and a little smile lifted the corners of his lips. “I’ll take care of this.”
“Do that.” She got up and tossed the pillow back on the couch. “I think I’ll be going to bed now.” She motioned to the clothing and boots strewn about the room. “You should hurry up though ‘cause I don’t know how long I’m gonna be awake.”
“Whatever,” he said with a grin, watching her as she turned and walked into the bedroom.
Maria shifted over onto her side, craning her neck to look out through the window above the nightstand. She blinked owlishly and flopped over onto her back, her right hand stretching out to run her fingers absently over Michael’s side of the bed. She hadn’t bothered with the fireplace when she came in and the cabin was cold. She was exhausted after the long day; combined with very little sleep the night before and the tension from earlier she was just drained physically, mentally and emotionally.
Outside the wind picked up, blowing through the trees and she shivered at the eerie whistling sound. The branches of a tree nearby cast long shadows, creating strange designs that danced on the wall. Her eyes followed one that looked almost like a dog and she smiled faintly as she thought about the picture Maggie had drawn and given to Michael.
She shivered and rubbed her arms but she still refused to climb under the covers. She wouldn’t simply go to bed while Michael was outside. She had dozed fitfully a few times, her mind alert to any sound that might indicate he was coming inside, but so far he had stubbornly remained out of earshot. She wanted so badly to ease his mind; she knew how his mind worked and he would push the fight away. She had seen the look in his eyes when Max had warned him that he was going to be the one to expose them. Her chest ached with every beat of her heart because she knew how alone he felt in protecting them and to have Max throw that in his face had hurt.
There was some truth to his statement and they were all aware of it. Michael had been in hyper-vigilant mode for so long that he couldn’t just shut it off after a couple of days off of the road. Even if he could she wasn’t sure he would, not when his assessment of the situation led him to the conclusion that they were still in danger. The thought of failing them weighed heavily on him and she knew it could become crippling if he continued to shoulder it alone.
She sat up enough to check the clock for what seemed like the fiftieth time in the past hour. She had angled it so that the moonlight reflected off of the face the first time she had checked the time. The only light in the cabin came from outside and from the little nightlight in the bathroom. It was only getting later the longer she waited for him to come inside. She knew he was used to going off alone when he was licking his wounds and she also knew he wouldn’t go far. There were too many unknowns and he wouldn’t risk leaving her without knowing he could get to her if he needed to.
He had been gone for nearly two hours and she sighed as she turned over again. She shifted but couldn’t find a comfortable spot and until he was next to her she wouldn’t. “Michael,” she whispered, the soft words sounding like a shout in the silent cabin.
Kyle’s voice ran through her head over and over. “He needs his space.”
She finally gave up trying to wait Michael out and rolled off of the bed, straightening her rumpled clothes as she shot one more glance at the clock. He’s had his space… two hours in the freezing cold is more than enough space.
“Time’s up.” She paused at the window, the corner of the nightstand digging into her leg when she leaned forward to look outside at the big lake.
Her eyes scanned across the snow-covered ground, the pure white such a stark contrast to the black canvas of the sky. The moon above cast shadows across the lake and as her eyes began to adjust she saw one of the shadows separate from the others and shift just enough to draw her attention. She turned back to the bed, running her hands over the covers, twisted and wrinkled from her restless tossing and turning, straightening them out and smoothing them into order once more. She wanted it ready for their return. She stood back to observe her handiwork and found herself wishing it was so easy to erase the hurt she had put him through in the past.
She checked the clock once more and decided that two hours was way too long to be out in the cold. She pulled on her coat and boots, leaving the leggings that reminded her of a pair of padded overalls because she wasn’t going to be outside very long. She stepped out of the cabin and pursed her lips as she looked at the snow that rose on either side of the shoveled path. She kicked at the snow just enough to give her a ‘step’ up, hoping it was packed well enough that she wouldn’t sink with every step.
The snow crunched underfoot as she took her first halting steps in the deep snow, her boots sinking several inches before stabilizing and allowing her to push off for the next step. She made her way around to the back of the cabin and she paused as she searched the frozen lake before her. She moved closer, the moonlight illuminating the landscape and picking up the iridescent crystals embedded in the snow. The vast expanse of ice seemed to go on forever, stopping only when it reached the velvety black horizon that was pinned in place by a multitude of stars.
Her eyes scanned the frozen lake, her heart aching with the need to know he was there, to see for herself that he was alright. She drew in a sharp breath, the icy air momentarily freezing her lungs when her gaze locked on the lone solitary figure standing several hundred feet away, staring up at the night sky. She exhaled slowly, watching as the heated mist was captured and absorbed by the cold air.
Maria looked down at her boots and sent a silent prayer to the ice gods that they would keep her upright on the slippery surface. She took her first hesitant step onto the ice, watching closely for the many jagged edges that seemed to be everywhere. It was as if the waves had frozen so quickly that their form had been captured and frozen in time. Her eyes never wandered from each sliding step as she made her way across the ice in a cautious and painfully slow sliding walk.
She stopped maybe four feet or so from him and paused to take in her surroundings. It was a moment filled with breathtaking awe and she felt incredibly small standing on the icy terrain. “So much peace here,” she whispered to herself. Her heart lifted at the sensation of absolute stillness, the feeling that time here had slowed to a halt. The wind picked up for a moment and she closed her eyes as it brushed her cheeks and ruffled her hair, but in her mind the air that touched her was hot and instead of moonlight it was sunlight shining down on her.
In her mind’s eye she could see the desert surrounding her, outcroppings of rocks rising up around her. She could remember the fear that Michael wasn’t going to survive and the feeling of relief when he had found his way back to them. After finding his balance in the dreamplane Michael had hugged Isabel and shaken Alex’s hand and he had kissed her not once, but twice.
“If you had to do it, could you get yourself on a snowmobile and get outta here?”
Her eyes snapped open when his voice cut through the stillness, the quiet, raspy words crystal clear. She released a heavy sigh at the burden he carried.
“Maria?” His voice had deepened as he projected it to get her attention.
“I won’t have to do that.”
“You don’t know that,” he insisted.
She shook her head, feeling that she was a large part of his burden. “You don’t know that I will need to either, Michael. Look, we’ve gotten this far already. We got stranded and we were taken in by the Stevens family; they’ve fed us, taken us into their home and their lives in spite of our suspicious behavior, and no one’s turned us in.”
“That we know of,” he interjected, his gaze locked on the sky.
She shivered from the cold as she thought about something her mom had always said. Maria, I’m not particularly religious but I do know this: Things happen for a reason. Sometimes we just have to rely on faith to get us through.
“All we can control here is taking care of finding a new vehicle and being watchful. The rest we’ll just have to rely on faith for it to work out because the truth is, we really don’t have control over any of it.”
He tipped his head just enough to watch her from the corner of his eye as his thoughts took him back to her mom’s kitchen and Amy’s battle with the garbage disposal. That had been an odd conversation but she had eased his mind and given him the answer he needed though she had never known it.“Look, Michael, we’re both getting what we need out of this situation. And, sure, the disposal won’t always be around, but what if? Maybe tomorrow isn’t something to really worry about.”
“Maybe,” he muttered quietly, feeling his nerves settling just a bit between Maria’s words and the memory of her mom’s advice. He watched her for a moment, seeing the concern in her eyes and the slight shiver that shook her frame when the wind gusted. “We should get back inside,” he said as he took the few necessary steps to stand beside her. His hand rested at the small of her back as he nudged her to get her moving and as soon as she was mobile her hand slipped over his forearm to hold onto him. “You shouldn’t have come out here.”
Maria shook her head and carefully slid her feet along the ice. “You shouldn’t have been out here for the past couple of hours. Maybe you don’t get sick like the rest… like me, but being out in extreme cold temperatures like this for extended periods of time could upset your balance or whatever.”
“I’m fine,” he insisted, steadying her when her boots lost their traction.
Several minutes later they stepped into the cabin and Maria couldn’t help but notice how jerky his movements were when he pushed the door closed behind them. His ‘I’m fine’
hadn’t been all that reassuring. She stomped her boots on the rug in front of the door and moved to the thermostat for the wall heater to make sure it was on. It was but it wasn’t warm enough. Grandma and Grandpa built the cabin for more of a three-season retreat,
she thought. The fireplace needed to be lit.
Michael reached for her with one shaking hand. “Come back here. Let’s get out outta that gear.”
Maria turned the lamp on next to the door and her eyes drank in his appearance. He was visibly shaking, his movements rigid and jerky and his dark eyes were dull with exhaustion. “I’m fine and I can handle my own gear.” She reached up to touch his face, frowning when she laid her hand alongside his cheek and she felt how cold he was. “God, you could get pneumonia. You’re super cold, Spaceboy, so don’t even go there with the ‘I can’t get pneumonia’, buddy. You’re the one that needs to warm up.”
She made short work of getting out of her coat and boots and even though her legs were so cold from not wearing her leggings outside she was grateful she didn’t have to take the time to get out of them. Her feet quickly ate up the distance to the cedar chest and lifted the lid, wincing at the creak of the old springs, pulling a blanket out and carrying it to one of the overstuffed chairs.
Moving back to Michael, she brushed his fumbling hands away and deftly unsnapped and unzipped his coat and the insulated bib overalls underneath. Once she had rid him of his outer gear she grabbed the blanket and placed it around his shoulders. She took him by the hand and led him to the chair in front of the fireplace where she gently pushed him back to sit down so she could help him pull his boots off.
Maria leaned back on her heels and looked up into his eyes. For just a moment she was back in her old room at her mom’s house on a rainy night when he had come to her and allowed her to take care of him. Her eyes scanned over his shoulders to make sure the blanket adequately covered him before she got up to carry his boots the few steps to the rug next to the door.
“I’ll get a fire going,” she said as she started to get on her knees to move the wood into the fireplace. Her head turned when Michael’s shaking hand landed on her shoulder.
“Lemme do that.”
She didn’t have the chance to get so much as a single word of protest out as he took over, pulling wood from the firebox and stacked it in the fireplace.
“Sit,” he ordered gruffly as he pointed to one of the chairs. He waited until she had complied and with a weary sigh he stretched his hand out, fingers splayed, and in mere moments a roaring fire was dancing merrily in the fireplace. Satisfied that it was good to go he moved back to his chair. He could feel the heat licking at his exposed flesh, could feel the burning sensation as the cold was slowly forced from his body. The real comfort wasn’t the warmth from the fire; it was the young woman next to him.
He felt as if he’d just gotten off of a merry-go-round at the park and could finally see where he was. He could hear Max’s voice begin to surface in his head and he pushed it down as deep as he could, distracting himself by running his eyes over the cabin. He blinked, bringing the room back into focus when Maria spoke, and he looked up when she stood and held a hand out to her.
“C’mere, it’s been too long of a day.”
His eyes traced over her features, taking in the firelight playing over her hair that was in disarray. As he looked into her green eyes, so dark and soft, he though back to his words to Max earlier. “Go home, Max.”
He was too wary to look deeper into her eyes, still unsure of where their relationship stood. Regardless of that she was his home and always would be and his heart ached in his chest because he wanted so badly for her to come back to him.
Her hand slipped into his and he allowed her to pull him to his feet. He turned to wave his hand over the fire in the fireplace, banking it. He willingly followed her to the bed after she turned the lamp off by the door. He stood there while she began to undress him in the dying firelight, their eyes locked as they watched each other in silent communion.
“We’ve been on the road for so long,” she whispered as her fingers nimbly unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. “You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I’m here.”
His head moved just enough to indicate a slight nod and his own fingers twitched for a moment before his hands lifted and he reached for the hem of her shirt. He shoved every other thought from his mind and focused all of his attention on her as their clothing was disposed of piece by piece.
The moon shifted its position in the sky and its soft light played over their skin as they made love. Long slow kisses, lingering caresses, soft moans and breathy gasps punctuated their lovemaking. Every touch of skin on skin and every look between them only heightened their awareness of each other, driving their need higher. As their bodies melded into one everything else faded into the background, narrowing their world down to just the two of them.
Their gazes remained locked for several moments before they collapsed into each other’s arms, breathless, hearts pounding, and their body’s slick with sweat. He rolled to his side, facing her as he gathered her into his arms. His forehead settled into the crook of her neck and her arm slipped under his, her hand settling on his back to rub soothing circles against his rapidly cooling skin. It didn’t take long before she heard the telltale hitch in his breathing that let her know he was sleeping peacefully and the caresses against his back began to slow, her hand dragging lazily against him as she began to follow him into sleep.